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galleria fire

Dispatches: Sprinklers should contain Galleria fire

They also reveal workers in mall as fire grew
By: Lien Hoang, The Press Tribune
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Twenty-five minutes after Alexander Piggee set the Galleria ablaze the morning of Oct. 21, Roseville fire reported: “the sprinklers should hold the fire,” according to dispatches released Monday. Several times in the fire and police records, the fire department states and reassures police that sprinklers will prevent the flames from spreading. It is now known that the fire gained a second wind, scorching large swaths of the mall, and that the aforementioned sprinklers were shut off for 71 minutes. The dispatches reinforce criticisms that, had the sprinklers remained on, the fire would not have gone on to wreak $55 million in damages, though officials haven’t said as much. Instead, they said at a press conference Friday and in a report that day that a Westfield maintenance worker turned off the sprinklers unauthorized. Piggee’s lawyer said the recent revelations prove his client was not to blame for the second round of flames that burst forth in the afternoon. “Mr. Piggee should only be held accountable for his conduct,” Johnny Lewis Griffin III said. “He should not be held accountable and liable for the errors, mistakes and conduct of others.” Without going into details, Griffin said he was unsatisfied with the official explanation and believed others were responsible, too. Firefighters couldn’t stamp out the fire before it escalated because of fears that Piggee left an improvised explosive device inside the mall’s GameStop and that a second suspect was at large, according to official reports. Neither of those – nor a gun Piggee claimed to have – materialized. Monday’s emergency dispatch records, distributed by the Roseville city clerk’s office, reveal a police force struggling to track down and surround Piggee early Oct. 21, as well as civilians remaining inside the mall after the 11 a.m. evacuation. That day, Piggee entered the Galleria with a Rastafarian drawstring bag and suitcase with wheels. Locking himself inside GameStop, he ignited the initial fire at 10:10 a.m. before embarking on a labyrinthine trudge through the surrounding crawl spaces, walls and hallways. “RP can lock him in if PD wants,” police records state at 10:33 a.m., as officers tried to determine what access Piggee had to the outside. RP refers to reporting party. They caught the suspect at 12:11 p.m., according to the city’s timeline. But at 12:49 p.m., police report: “female calling from Victorias Secret, there is a manager and a few employees locked in Aeropostle - unk how many - they havent evacated” (sic). More than an hour later, a woman called with concerns her son and other Aeropostale employees were “still working and disregarding the orders to evacuate.” Westfield declined to comment, saying it is reviewing the City of Roseville’s after-action report that came out Friday. In preparing his defense, Griffin said he would not rely on the report, but instead on information directly from police. But with what information is now public, “the prosecution will have an uphill battle” pinning aggravated arson on Piggee, the attorney said. Others, too, are skeptical and said authorities should own up to their role in the disaster. “I’m going like, ‘No, there’s something else, no question,’” Dennis Bizeau. “I’ve lived here 22 years and I don’t listen to anything the city says. Everybody covers their butts.” But Emily Maldonado believed officials did all they could. “I think it’s a really good explanation,” she said of the report mentioning the maintenance worker, “and I think it’s really stupid of someone to turn off the sprinklers.” Two months after the fact, police said they had to complete the criminal investigation before they could produce the after-action report. Now that it’s out, officials hope to lessen the flak they’ve taken, for the most part silently. “Of course, we would have loved to have not endured this last month or so,” Roseville fire chief Dean Grundy said at the Friday press conference. Lien Hoang can be reached at lienh@goldcountrymedia.com.